You would think This One’s for the Ladies, Gene Graham’s foray into strip shows for black women, would be all about dick. If so, you would be wrong.
In fact, once you nasty girls (and boys) are drawn into this world, you are in fact exposed to the creativity, the resilience, the swag, the hard love, the sexualities and the unyielding service of black women to each other, and, of course, everyone else.
With a NC-17 rating, five years to completion, and Rolling Stone calling it the “sexiest documentary of the summer,” This One’s for The Ladies is all about pleasure—the pleasure of black women, which is so often commodified, which is so often denied; it’s about seeing those poor and working-class black women, those we never get to see on film—fat, social, sexual, playful, everyday black women—who just wanna have fun.
And yes, there’s plenty dick, too.
Graham said he was led to create his film after he was confronted with the extrajudicial deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. The 55-year-old film editor said he wanted to channel that anger and to create “a movie that I’ve never seen before.”
“And not just about police brutality but anything that was on our minds really,” says Graham to The Root. “And then the other thing was that Magic Mike didn’t have any men of color in the main line up, which was kind of silly; so long story short, the idea came about of just using the strip club to gain access; it’s like a gateway to a broader conversation of race and class and community and sisterhood and family. And that’s what we did.”
This One’s for the Ladies concentrates on a few figures from the black strip circuit—C-Pudding and Pound Cake, women who are regulars and who follow strip shows around the country; Michelle, a white woman who actually introduced Graham to the world; Obar and Omar McGill, twin brothers who have been on the strip scene for years; Young Rider, a pioneering showman and stripper from New Jersey, who says he learned all his swag from his favorite uncle, who does a fabulous drag; and Blaze, a “dom dancer” on the circuit for all the ladies who want lady parts to rub on.
Graham says he used these folks as entre into having a “real good conversation” about the state of things in black America, things that we experience and stomach every single day—from microaggressions to straight tragedy to sexuality from a black, working-class perspective.
“My feeling was that once we started talking to people outside the club, we were going to have a real good conversation about what’s going on,” says Graham. “And I didn’t know some specifics like I had no idea that when we went down to D.C. with C-Pudding that we’d find out her brother was killed in police custody...just unpacking that, the whole idea that she wasn’t thinking about it too much or she was always thinking about it for 20 years but just didn’t really know what the language was and all that sort of stuff. That is a story, that’s just an important story for us, for black people and us evolving and coming to terms with trauma. So anyway, those specific things, and Blaze being a dom dancer, and a lesbian, in a straight space, that was new. Or when Pound Cake was talking about, ‘I’m gay in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York.’”
Graham, who is gay, also saw that This One’s for the Ladies opened up ways to talk about sexuality without perhaps the analysis of a gender studies reader.
“I’d like to think that our community is not monolithically homophobic. And especially in the straight women’s—I’m using air quotes—strip space, where men are performing for women. To me, every event was always fun, funny, sexy, silly, naughty, and open. Just open to a whole range of sexualities. Obviously, there’s some sort of fluidity,” says Graham. “And if somebody wasn’t into seeing Blaze, they could go off and get a drink, have a cigarette or something like that. But the majority of the women would stick around to check out the performance. And to me, that just said a lot about the openness of black women. And the potential openness of our community. We all know somebody who is gay. There’s always like an aunt, or the uncle, or a cousin or a brother.”
Blaze was Graham’s biggest surprise, he says. “And Blaze is not the only dom on the circuit; she’s one of the best. That whole [scene where] she does that death drop and you can hear the [MC] saying, ‘Well if you can put dollars on a dick, we can put dollars on a female. Go out and support her!’ I was like, aw, shit. This has to be, has to be in the film, don’t cut!
“To me, that just says everything about sisterhood and support and I always default to this—I’m not sure if I always see that kind of conversation on the big screen for black women, and for black people and the black community and things like that are really important.”
The film has an NC-17 rating because did we mention that in addition to sexuality, and creativity and tragedy, This One’s for the Ladies is chock full of dick?
“Props to Neon [the film’s distribution company] for getting behind that,” says Graham. “You know, it’s a list of things I’m thinking about. So one of them is, if you come into the theater and you’re curious and you’ve never been to a strip show, I really wanted to make sure that you felt like you were there. And part of that is seeing this guy sling that dick because that is part of it. So that’s one of the reasons why ladies go. Along with hanging out with your girls or having a birthday party or somebody’s leaving their job or girls’ night out or whatever. So I definitely wanted to have that in; and so, I was prepared and we have an R-rated version where the full-frontal is blurred out, but you know exactly what’s going on. But Neon, I told them I would like to see it.”
Because let’s be real, if anyone in this world needs levity, it’s black women. The ladies.
“So out of anger comes this movie that is joyful; that word pops up a lot.”
This One’s For The Ladies will be available for purchase or rental in September and will be streaming on Hulu in December.